November 16, 2021 10:52 PM EST

These past two years have changed the role of human resources leaders within organizations in fundamental ways that likely will endure. The workforce issues that HR is responsible for—recruiting, retention, diversity, mental health, training, and more—have through the crisis and recovery become the central strategic and operating concerns of many companies.

Which makes it a propitious moment for the publication of Reset, a new book by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the president and chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and a veteran legal and HR leader at companies including Blockbuster, Paramount Pictures, and IAC. (Longtime readers of this newsletter will note that Charter was formerly known as Reset and Reset Work—there’s no connection to this new book.)

“HR is often viewed as a cost center with limited business acumen,” Taylor acknowledges, arguing that’s a mistake. “We have seen during recent reset moments that HR is the true home of innovation within the modern organization. This is largely because HR leaders now have the responsibility to offer the kind of employee experience that attracts and retains top talent.” (p. 51)

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Attributes of the best chief human resources officers (CHROs), according to SHRM research, include:

  • Pushing boundaries of their role to help organizations adapt.
  • Pursuing digitalization of the business.
  • Embracing the reinvention of work and continuous learning amid automation.
  • Leading in non-hierarchical, fluid work environments.
  • Using data analysis to make better business decisions.

In Reset, Taylor focuses on the issues that many managers are deeply concerned with at the moment: corporate culture, recruiting, retention, inclusion, training, and equity in pay and other dimensions.

But while Reset has moments of specific insight and tactical advice, it doesn’t ultimately offer a fundamentally new way of thinking about them. And the specific examples from companies that Taylor cites are plentiful, but they’re too often superficial mentions and would be more useful if they were deeper and more critical case studies.

The highlights of the book include Taylor’s clear views on some of the HR controversies and practices of our time, his sharp policy agenda, and a quantitative formula near the end for evaluating your organization’s culture.

Among Taylor’s views:

  • Offering managers financial incentives for hitting diversity targets, as Starbucks has done, is a mistake. Having a diverse workforce should be a condition for keeping your job. And “when you look behind the curtain, do you notice who this enriches?” Taylor writes. “The white executives, almost always.” (p. 137)
  • Leaders should selectively pick issues where they take political stands, resisting sometimes activist workforces to not do business with specific people or groups because of their politics. “For employees who don’t see the nuance, who want their employer to be an advocate on issues outside of its square, we have to be prepared to say, ‘You need to work somewhere else.’” (p. 70)
  • Similarly, Taylor highlights Mark Zuckerberg’s resistance to internal and external pressures to more quickly and aggressively clamp down on the spread of President Trump’s false and inflammatory posts. Facebook’s CEO “is heat resistant. He holds firm despite pressure,” Taylor writes. “He realizes he has talented employees who are in misalignment with Facebook’s culture and, you know what, he has welcomed them to leave.” (p. 103)
  • Taylor is critical of Starbucks’ 2018 closing of its stores following an incident of racial bias for anti-racism training. “Shutting down stores for one afternoon to have unskilled people teach other workers about unconscious bias is not going to solve a problem,” he writes. (p. 157)

Areas where Taylor argues for policy change:

  • Updating tax provisions to give employers greater flexibility to fund employee education.
  • Immigration reform to simplify employers’ ability to tap immigrant labor.
  • Further incentivizing employers to hire from marginalized groups, such as the long-term unemployed, formerly incarcerated, individuals with disabilities, and veterans.

Taylor recommends that companies hire for curiosity. “The curious worker is a resource saver in a workplace where we’ll have to do more with less in our pandemic afterlives,” he writes (p. 172) He recommends asking job candidates interview questions such as “What have you taught yourself over the past year?” and “ What did you find interesting in the news today?”

He brings together his views about workplace best practices in a culture score. This is calculated using a formula with the acronym NICE:

  • Net Promoter Score—How likely would staff recommend their employer to a friend?
  • Inclusion factor—Do employees actually feel like they belong? SHRM has a survey it recommends to measure this.
  • Curiosity indicator—Taylor says this can be quantified as the percent of capital expenditures spent in areas such as new product development and research.
  • Employer brand—Taylor uses NPS and Glassdoor ratings to calculate this.

Does the actual number derived correlate rigorously with workplace and business outcomes? Taylor doesn’t offer conclusive evidence of that—but the exercise of trying to quantify and track important workplace dimensions is thought provoking.

Among Taylor’s predictions for what’s next in the workplace:

  • Use of wearable tech by workers, to monitor health and performance.
  • Increased prevalence of the Spanish language and Latinx culture.
  • More universal childcare for workers, thanks to subsidies from the government.

To be sure:

  • Reset is jargony at times, and superficial at others. The idea that leaders need to embrace ongoing change feels obvious. And there are moments when Reset appears worryingly uncritical, such as its celebrating of IBM’s leadership without mentioning the company’s deep turnaround struggles.
  • While this book was published into the pandemic, it doesn’t go deep into best practices specifically for this moment of remote and hybrid work.

Choice quotes:

  • “The CHRO serves as the chief reinvention officer, exploring how the workforce relates to consumers and determining which skills that workforces can ply in novel ways.” (p. 11)
  • “Uncertainty triggers insecurity, a hundred percent of the time.” (p. 26)
  • “Instead of simply asking about past projects and performance, go deeper: Have you ever come up with a great idea?” (p. 49)
  • “Every CEO should be the chief diversity officer of their organization.” (p. 159)
  • “The incurious employee is a money pit.” (p. 182)

The bottom line is that Reset hits squarely on the issues that many organizations are thinking more seriously about than ever, amid the challenges of the pandemic and increased worker empowerment during the recovery. The evolving role of human resources leadership is also a ripe topic that Reset tackles. But it falls short in significant ways of providing the definitive book on this moment and truly resetting how we think about these important areas.

You can order Reset at Bookshop.org or Amazon. (We may make a commission when you buy a book.) All page numbers referenced above are for the hardcover edition.

You can read all of our book briefings here.

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